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Va’etchanan / And I Implored
This Torah portion opens with Moses pleading with God to allow him to enter the land. God tells Moses that he will not enter into the land with the people, but to accept His word and still teach the people to prepare for what is before them. This is a change for the people, from the mindset of slavery to now the mindset of inheritance.
Deuteronomy 4:1-5 ‘Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you. 2 You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you. 3 Your eyes have seen what the Lord did at Baal Peor; for the Lord your God has destroyed from among you all the men who followed Baal of Peor. 4 But you who held fast to the Lord your God are alive today, every one of you. “Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess.’
With this in mind, in chapter five the Ten Words are repeated to the children of Israel. This chapter ends imploring to keep the commandments of God. ‘Therefore you shall be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. 33 You shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess.’
Deuteronomy 6 contains the Shema, ‘“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6 “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.’
Shema! Listen! Again, listen, observe, live, possess, hold fast and act according to the commandments of God. And in Deuteronomy 6:8, we are told to ‘bind them’. If something is bound to us, we belong to it and it belongs to us.
Buried among the verses in Va-etchanan – among the Shema and the Ten Commandments – is a brief passage with large implications for the moral life. Here it is together with the preceding verse:
‘You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and His testimonies and His statutes, which He has commanded you. And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers.’ Deuteronomy 6:17-18.
Understanding this can be difficult for the preceding verse makes reference to commandments, testimonies and statutes. What then is meant by the phrase “the right and the good” that is not already included within the Ten Words?
What is the right thing and what is good in the sight of God? It would have to be what He states is good, not what our own flesh comes up with.
James 4:17 ‘So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
Romans 12:21 ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’
Isaiah 1:17 ‘Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.’
Galatians 6:7 ‘Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. ...
John 14:21 ‘Whoever has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
Most people want to do what is right. But how do we know what is right? Who defines what is right? Each individual? The world? Man? Or God?
Isaiah 5:20 ‘Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.’
Isaiah 5:21 ‘Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.’
Deuteronomy 12:8 ‘You shall not, any more, do as we are all doing today: every man doing what is right in his own eyes.’
Proverbs 21:2 ‘Every way of man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts.’
Hosea 14:9 ‘The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them.
Ezekiel 18:29 God chides Israel, "You say, “The way of the Lord is not right”. Hear now O Israel: Is it not My ways that are right, and yours that are wrong?"
May we continue to learn and grow towards God and His Will, cling to what is right and cling to Him.
Va’etchanan / And I Pleaded
Va’etchanan begins with Moshe recounting the events of God’s answer when he pleads to God to enter the land. Again, Moshe lets the Israelites know how he feels and where he places blame: ‘But the Lord was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me.’ Deuteronomy 3:26. Without hesitation, God immediately displays divine anger with Moses, wouldn't listen to him, and rebukes him in the next verse, (3:27). Yet, Moses doesn't accept the blame for God's being so cross with him. He continues in the very next chapter (4:21), continuing to blame the Israelites for their being the cause of the prohibition against his entering into The Land. This started in the beginning of Deuteronomy 1:37 where Moses had already begun to assign the blame to the people for his punishment.
Chapter Four begins with a warning: ‘Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you. 2 You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.’ Deuteronomy 4:1-2. In verses 5-8 Moses gives the Israelites another reason for following the commands of God. Moses tells the people that it is ‘their wisdom’ and ‘their understanding’.
Proverbs 9:10 states: ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.’ Prior to this verse, Proverbs 9:1 lists seven pillars of wisdom: ‘Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn out her seven pillars…’
James 1:5 tells us: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God". Then, "a wise man and endued with knowledge… and continues in James 3:13 - ‘show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom’.
Do we possibly see in James 3:17 the explanation of the seven pillars of wisdom in Proverbs 9:1? The house is described as pure, the very foundation which is God’s Way, His house, His Divine words, and the Torah. (Yeshua reiterates this in Matthew 7:24); ‘But the wisdom that is from above is first pure’…this is followed by seven descriptions of wisdom: ‘… then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.’
Deuteronomy 4:7-8 reminds the Israelites of the greatness of God ‘For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the Lord our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? 8 And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?’
Chapter Four continues with idolatry forbidden, cities of refuge and the introduction to the Torah as Moses prepares to present the Torah to the people a second time. Chapter four also contains an absolute certainty that what had happened to them would eventually change and inspire the world, as Moses states:
“For ask now concerning the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether any great thing like this has happened, or anything like it has been heard. 33 Did any people ever hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and live?’
In Deuteronomy 5:2-3 Moses, as a preamble to the Ten Words, reminds the Israelites that –‘The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. 3 The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive.’
Chapter 6 contains the heart of wisdom: ‘Shema! Israel.’ Listen, heed, observe, guard, take care of…for the Lord God is One. There is One God with One Torah, one set of instructions for one people, His people, who are all of us.
Deuteronomy 6:6-7 ‘And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.’ Chapter six ends with instructions for parents who are obedient to God’s Word: ‘When your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies, the statutes, and the judgments which the Lord our God has commanded you?’ 21 then you shall say to your son: ‘We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand; 22 and the Lord showed signs and wonders before our eyes, great and severe, against Egypt, Pharaoh, and all his household. 23 Then He brought us out from there, that He might bring us in, to give us the land of which He swore to our fathers. 24 And the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day. 25 Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us.’ Deuteronomy 6:20-25.
Chapter seven continues with driving out of the seven nations, to utterly destroy them and not bind a covenant with them, to not marry and show no mercy. Relating that to our lives today, the nation ideology that wants to bind us again into bondage, we are to utterly destroy. The idols in our lives, the adulterous ways, we are to show no mercy to as we remove them from our lives. Anything that takes away from our marriage to God, our bonding with God, and our walk with God is to be destroyed. We are to Shema!
Va’etchanan ends with ‘Therefore you shall keep the commandment, the statutes, and the judgments which I command you today, to observe them.’
May you be blessed as you study Va’etchanan. ~ Rabbi Jay Howard